The GOP’s Big Hispanic Problem

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Hidden in the numbers from last week’s vote tallies is a major concern for the Republican Party: Hispanics have jumped ship. Four states with significant Hispanic populations–Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida–swung huge for Obama, reversing course from just four years earlier, when John Kerry effectively battled to a draw in New Mexico and lost the other three states. Here’s how Peter Wallsten sums it up in the LA Times:

A major shift in the Latino vote took place in Florida and the Southwest, where the Obama campaign spent at least $20 million on targeted appeals and organizing, including one television ad in the final days featuring the candidate reading Spanish from a script.Latinos made up a greater share of the electorate than in the past in every Southwestern state, according to exit polls compiled by CNN. And in each Southwestern state, as well as Florida, the Democrat pulled a bigger percentage of the Latino vote — a turnaround from 2004, when President Bush cut deeply into Democrats’ hold on Latinos and won that bloc in Florida, where many Cuban Americans remain loyal to the GOP. “The Democrats have built what looks like a coalition they can ride for 20 or 30 years,” said Simon Rosenberg, head of the pro-Democratic group NDN, which has spent millions of dollars targeting Latino voters.

On Sunday, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, the former co-chair of the Republican National Committee, was asked about the trend on Meet The Press. His answer suggested at possible doom for the Republican Party, a view that is widely held among Republican strategists.

Governor Jeb Bush — former Governor Jeb Bush last week made a comment that if Republicans don’t figure it out and do the math that we’re going to be relegated to minority status. I’ve been preaching this for a long time to my colleagues within my party. I think that the very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans. The fact of the matter is I think in Florida there was not a great ideological shift, but I think there was plenty of room for improvement in how that state was looked upon. The fact of the matter is that Hispanics are going to be a more and more vibrant part of the electorate, and the Republican Party had better figure out how to talk to them. We had a very dramatic shift between what President Bush was able to do with Hispanic voters, where he won 44 percent of them, and what happened to Senator McCain. Senator McCain did not deserve what he got. He was one of those that valiantly fought, fought for immigration reform, but there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we’re going to be relegated to minority status.

Much of the shift is not Obama-centric. Hispanics began abandoning the GOP after 2006, around the same time that immigration rose to prominence as a national issue. With immigration reform likely to return to the table again next year, the Republican Party may find itself forced to choose between its conservative base and its future as a national party.